When I started this journal, it was meant primarily as a means of personal reflection, expression, and therapy. Whether or not anyone ever reads these words or finds value in them, I have found writing extremely therapeutic. It allows me to process my thoughts and feelings in a way I cannot do in spoken words: my emotions solidify best when I write them on paper.
This essay in particular is extremely personal and reflective, more so than anything I have written so far, but it’s one that has been burning inside me nearly from the moment of my Dad’s passing. I’ve decided to write it down, to get it out, because it has been boiling in my thoughts and my soul for months now. If you’re reading these words, I ask for grace, for understanding, and for patience as I work through some of the darkest days of my life.
Let me begin by saying I consider myself a Christian. I grew up in the church, I attended services with my Mom every Sunday, served in various capacities, I was baptized at age eight, I attended youth group, I went to Christian camps, I attended a Christian college, I was the director of our church’s Children’s Ministry, and I currently work at a Christian school.
I know the Bible. I memorized the verses, I know the history and the theology, and I know what it says about grace and mercy. I know what it says about prayer and God’s loving kindness. I know what it says about free will. I know how “Before” me would have responded to what I’m about to write: I would break out the verses and the “God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way we want, but he is still good! He works everything together for the good of those who love him! Trust him no matter what!”
Well, that was when I lived in the Before. Now here in the After, it’s a different story.
- “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 34:15)
- “Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:12)
- “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)
On an on, verse after verse, God tells us to call upon him, make our requests known to him and he will answer us. Prayer is powerful – or so I used to believe.
I haven’t prayed in four months.
I’ve never been one to see God as a Genie: a magical wish-granting factory who gives us everything we want. Rarely have I prayed that God do something specific in my life or in the lives of those around me. I’ve followed the standard “not my will, but yours be done. Please just give me peace and help me to do your will” protocol for most of my prayers.
Actually, there has only been one specific, targeted prayer in all my years as a Christian: I’ve never prayed for someone or something as hard, as often, or as fervently as I prayed for my Dad.
Ever since I can remember, my Dad has struggled with issues that have affected his health, both emotionally and physically. The nature of these issues is private and irrelevant at this point, but I knew from an early age that he might not live as long as I hoped he would if he didn’t make some serious life changes. He was a great Dad, a brilliant man, and he was so much fun, but like many of us, he faced down demons that he could not overcome on his own. Had he made changes to his lifestyle, he would likely still be here today.
I spent countless hours literally on my knees, face to the ground, tears streaming down my face as I begged God to save my Dad, to change his proverbial heart, to heal him. Over and over, year after year, I prayed this prayer. Never in my life have I prayed so consistently and so passionately for one person, believing the God was powerful and good, that he would hear my pleas and answer my prayers.
Then, in the blink of an eye, those hopes were dashed. My Dad’s health deteriorated, sickness took over, and he lost his battle. My prayers were not answered. My Dad was gone.
Since then, I’ve really questioned my faith. If I’m honest, I became angry. Not with my Dad or with the doctors or even with myself (though I have been that, too), but with God. Why didn’t he save my Dad? Was he even listening? Did he even care? Was he even there at all?
How can a God who claims to hear our prayers, to be gracious and loving, and to be all powerful also be a God who turns his back on his children? How can a God who claims to hear my prayers allow this ending to my Dad’s story? What good is prayer if, in the end, it does no good at all?
Moreover, I certainly wasn’t the only one praying for my Dad’s healing: my Grandparents, my mother, my aunts, family friends, even acquaintances through our churches prayed diligently for my Dad, but even that didn’t make a difference.
Even now, when I try to pray, the words get stuck. The cynic inside my head has taken over and has clouded my once firm belief. It’s easy these days to find myself steering towards a place of anger and skepticism, a place where prayers aren’t worth wasting the breath it would cost to utter them. “What’s the point?” I think. “If there is a God up there, he could have saved my Dad, but he didn’t. I don’t want to waste my time pretending to be thankful to him for anything.”
I know it’s a cynical, bitter sounding dialogue, but if I’m brutally honest, it’s the dialogue raging through my mind these days.
I wish I could tell you that the end of this entry will be tied up with a pretty little bow and a message of “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!” but that’s not where I’m at in my grief journey. I’m still deep in the midst of doubt, of anger, and of devastation. I am mad at God and in this dark place, I am questioning all that I believed to be true about him and about my faith.
I write this because it feels good to have it out my head and onto paper and because I know I cannot be the only one who has ever experienced such a loss of faith in the face of tragedy. I write this because I want to be honest and open about where this path leads me, and right now it is leading me through some dark valleys. I hope there are brighter days ahead, days where my faith is restored, days where I believe God is good and he hears my cries.
Until then, I wrestle with this question: how can we find our faith once it has been lost?